Many knew that West Ham had pulled off a coup by signing Dimitri Payet last summer, but it wasn’t clear until a year later what a rare gem they’d found.
After Payet’s stunning debut season in the Premier League, a season that saw him score nine goals and assist 12 more while dazzling England with his brilliant technical ability and sparkling distance shooting, he now finds himself suddenly unwelcome at the gates of West Ham’s new home.
With West Ham 13th in the Premier League table and struggling for consistency, Payet has stunned Hammer fans by refusing to play for the club and asking for a transfer.
From nearly all angles, this is a horrible look from a player who was rescued from Marseille by Slaven Bilic and brought back to life during his time at West Ham. It appears on the surface that the player has turned his back on a club and fanbase that embraced him when life was good. Bilic wasn’t even asked about Payet when he revealed the situation, he simply went off in a press conference, a rare situation that describes just how betrayed by Payet the manager feels.
But a deeper dive into West Ham’s recent past shows why Payet has become disenfranchised just half a season later and why the player may not be shouldering all the blame despite the ugly optics.
This summer, West Ham found itself the proud owner of a legitimate franchise player; a player who suddenly burdens the club with his own expectations. This is not to say Payet gave West Ham any sort of ultimatum, but in this situation, the Hammers now have the expectation to be good enough for such a player. It is the responsibility of the club to perform to the standards of the player, just as it is the responsibility of the player to bring the club his best. In short: they must build around their superstar. We see countless times a club’s best player leave because that club was either relegated or fell below the player’s ambitions.
Dimitri Payet proved last season that he’s better than 13th place in the Premier League, and he’s proving this season that despite the club’s struggles, he is still as good as he was. As a Player of the Season candidate, it’s obviously his responsibility to replicate that form, and he has, leading the Premier League in chances created and key passes and rated the 5th best player in the league by Squawka’s rankings.
Here is where West Ham failed the Frenchman: it is also on the club to provide him with the best environment to replicate that form. Let’s review the ways West Ham went about that process this past summer:
- They purchased Andre Ayew for $26 million, by all accounts a solid purchase at the time – if not an expensive transaction – but one that has not paid off at all. Ayew has battled injuries and poor service to the return of a single goal in 12 appearances.
- They spent $13 million on Manuel Lanzini, a player expected to pull some weight off Payet’s shoulders in the attack. Instead, he’s been a significant disappointment as well, dazzling the crowd at times, but coupling those performances with his fair share of horror shows.
- West Ham spent $8 million on Arthur Makuatsu, a forced purchase after starting the season without a healthy left-back. Makuatsu was bad and then got hurt, and has made just six appearances thanks to the return of Aaron Cresswell.
- They brought in Sofiane Feghouli, Alvaro Arbeloa, Ashley Fletcher, and Havard Nordveit on free transfers. Feghouli has been good at times but hasn’t been consistent enough to see the field, the 33-year-old Arbeloa has been hurt, Fletcher hasn’t made the squad, and Nordtveit has struggled with discipline.
- They brought in Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore, and Jonathan Calleri on loan. Zaza couldn’t even muster a single goal before getting hurt and wanting out, Tore was a solid get but got injured early, and Calleri hasn’t started once and hasn’t seen the field since October.
There’s no doubt the Hammers have had horrible injury luck this season, with Gokhan Tore’s knee operation maybe the most difficult to swallow, but the bottom line is this: the Hammers didn’t do nearly enough this summer to prove they mean business. While other clubs around them got better, West Ham instead looked for value buys and spent big on flops. Subsequently, they have felt the difficult consequences to their actions. The defense has been porous and the service up front has been limited. Dimitri Payet’s 72 chances created are an enormous 52 more than anyone else in the West Ham squad and represent 35% of the team’s total of 204. Simply put, it’s on Payet to do it all, and that’s why he wants out.
Make no mistake that Dimitri Payet’s decision to distance himself from West Ham still reflects poorly on his character. As the second time he’s pushed for a transfer away from a club of significant size (also pushing his way out of Marseille when West Ham came calling), this is clearly heavy baggage he is now forced to lug around the rest of his career. However, the club is not absolved of blame in this situation. Who knows what promises were made to Payet when he signed a contract extension this summer through the summer of 2021. With a new stadium meant to catapult West Ham “to the next level,” little attention was paid to the future product on the field. Fans should be just as disappointed with the board and staff as they are with the player.